Rotating emergency services must offer more to victims of child abuse and neglect

Newswise – Researchers at the University of South Australia are calling for an end to ‘revolving door’ emergency services after finding evidence showing alarming attendance rates in children’s hospital emergency departments, adolescents and adults who are victims of child abuse and neglect.

A study by Professor Leonie Segal of UniSA and Dr Emmanuel Gnanamanickam of the Australian Center for Precision Health of SAHMRI, shows that children exposed to child abuse have a significantly increased risk of attending emergency services during childhood and early adulthood.

“Our study shows that people affected by child abuse have significantly higher visits to emergency departments, especially for mental health, substance abuse, self-harm issues, but also for general injuries,” explains Dr Gnanamanickam.

“Regarding, the magnitude of the impact is much greater than what had been previously reported, particularly in adolescence and early adulthood, where attendance rates of people with protection issues. more severe childhood are four times higher than those of people without a history of child protection. “

Adolescents aged 13 to 17 with the most serious child protection concerns were most at risk, being almost 50 times more likely to go to the emergency room with mental illness and 33 times more likely to present to self-harm or poison themselves than adolescents without child protection issues.

Chief investigator Professor Leonie Segal of UniSA says these unprecedented results point to massive failures in the broader health and social care systems.

“We have an imperative to meet the health care needs of vulnerable children earlier in life and with a whole-of-government response,” said Prof Segal.

“Victims of child abuse and maltreatment have serious mental health needs that require intensive, highly skilled support, delivered in a welcoming and compassionate setting, to maximize the chances of engagement and healing.

“Child protection services have a role in monitoring and eventual removal of children in extreme circumstances, but in terms of therapeutic response, SA Health must take the lead – with a well-staffed, intensive and accessible service. . “

Child abuse is a serious form of trauma that affects the developing brain. It affects stress responses, sense of self, relationship patterns, thinking, behaviors, and emotions, all of which underlie worrying emergency department outcomes.

“Support services need to be able to intervene early in life, ideally before the trauma gets worse,” says Prof Segal.

Emergency services must offer more than a revolving ‘tinker and go’ door for vulnerable and distressed children, adolescents and young adults, with well-equipped referral pathways that can provide a therapeutic response to trauma High quality.

“Our current service system identifies people at risk early in their lives, but they are not being offered the services they need to heal and disrupt a disruptive life trajectory.

“If we as a society really care about youth suicide and risky behavior, we cannot afford to wait for the first suicide attempt or the first psychotic episode of adolescence; rather, we need to provide the supports needed when infant and child distress first arises.

Notes to Editors:

  • The study is published in Child abuse and neglect, and examined more than 443,000 linked files resulting from the impacts of the Child Abuse and Neglect (iCAN) project. He followed children from birth to early adulthood (age 32) to assess the association between different levels of concern for child abuse and emergency department visits.
  • Cite as: Gnanamanickam ES, Nguyen H, Armfield JM, Doidge JC, Brown DS, Preen DB, Segal L. Child abuse and emergency room visits: a longitudinal birth cohort study from infancy to early adulthood. Child abuse Negl. November 22, 2021; 123: 105397. doi: 10.1016 / j.chiabu.2021.105397. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 34823123.
  • This research is funded by the Australian Government’s National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC).


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